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What if 9/11 had never happened?
September 6, 2011 7:40 AM   Subscribe

"The Democrats win the 2004 election, whereupon bin Laden’s new Islamic Republic of Arabia takes hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh…" Niall Ferguson, Harvard and Oxford historian, notes the approaching anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with a speculative piece on what 2011 might look like had the plot been foiled.

A practised hand at the dream, story or imaginary tale, Ferguson's first venture into 9/11 alt-history came in 2006, with a long piece for Time Magazine titled The Nation that Fell to Earth. Written from the perspective of a historian in 2031, this piece pictured a 2011 in which Christopher Hitchens published "Bush: A Study in Greatness", the young Democratic former senator Mark Warner was in his first term as President and America was facing a recession caused by the collapse of the Chinese economy.

Previously on MetaFilter: New York Magazine's 2006 collection of 9/11 speculation, which shunned the pluperfect and asked "What if 9/11 Never Happened?". This contribution by Tony Harris and Brian K Vaughan remains a little goosebump-raising.

Bonus reel: An NPR discussion from 2006 featuring the editor of that piece, John Heilemann, and contributors Ron Suskind, Andrew Sullivan and Dalia Lithwick.
posted by running order squabble fest (106 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Renoroc lazed in his robot flying car, toking on newly legalized marijuana, while on his way to his government sponsored health care annual physical exam. Below him, a green belt that used to be interstate 10 teemed with soy crops harvested by robots. Thanks to the multi-trillion dollar surplus wisely maintained and invested by the government, poverty was well on it's way to being eliminated and there was even enough money to move the entire city of New Orleans 30 miles away from the flood zone, recreating the original almost exactly. He also reflected how great it was that the Patriots won 4 Superbowls in a row.
posted by Renoroc at 7:50 AM on September 6, 2011 [77 favorites]


What, no war in Iraq without 9/11? I'm sure Cheney could have just kept inviting congress on hunting trips until he had enough votes.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 7:51 AM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


What's the opposite of tl;dr?
posted by bpm140 at 7:51 AM on September 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry, but this kind of speculative stuff is about as substantive (and masturbatory) as the "Is Brooklyn Decker the Sexiest Swimsuit Model in the World?' There are far too many variables and assumptions to presume anything about possible futures. All it usually serves to do is highlight the author's bias.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:52 AM on September 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would like to know where I can get the mushroom tea this guy is swigging.
posted by spicynuts at 7:52 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


ts;ff
posted by Plutor at 7:53 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let's all smoke some of what Renoroc's smoking and skip the rest of it.
posted by notyou at 7:54 AM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


He also reflected how great it was that the Patriots won 4 Superbowls in a row.

I'll have no part of this dystopian horror-show thank you.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:54 AM on September 6, 2011 [23 favorites]


Replaying the history game without 9/11 suggests that, ironically, I just claimed without supporting evidence that the real impact of the attacks was not on Americans but on the homelands of the attackers themselves.

Fixed that for him.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:56 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is just idiotic.
Let’s start in January 2001 and thwart the 9/11 attacks by having Condi Rice and Paul Wolfowitz heed Richard Clarke’s warnings about Al Qaeda. The game starts off well. Al -Qaeda is preemptively decapitated, its leaders rounded up in a series of covert operations and left to the tender mercies of their home governments. President Bush gets to focus on tax cuts, his first love.

But then, three years later, the murky details of this operation surface on the front page of The New York Times. John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, denounces the “criminal conduct” of the Bush administration. Liberal pundits foam at the mouth. Ordinary Americans, unseared by 9/11, are shocked. Osama bin Laden issues a fierce denunciation of the U.S. from his Saudi prison cell. It triggers a wave of popular anger in the Middle East that topples any regime seen as too close to Washington.
What are these "murky details" that topple governments and presidents? Nobody's cared that about murky US covert operations in the past. What's so magical about these details that they topple governments that would presumably otherwise be stable or repressive enough to survive? Why wasn't it possible to carry out these operations using the non-government-toppling murky techniques of the past?

This story might as well be about an army of evil liberal monkeys flying out of Osama bin Laden's butt.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:58 AM on September 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


In my speculative piece about what 2011 look like had the plot been foiled, we discover that chocolate ice cream is an alternative energy source, ponies learn to talk, and everyone has a personal rainbow.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:58 AM on September 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


But what's speculative about that, KokuRyu?
posted by crunchland at 8:02 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


In mine, Niall is murdered by roving Mnidflayers.
posted by clavdivs at 8:04 AM on September 6, 2011


Then again, it is troubling to consider what the world might be like without the Bert is evil meme.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:06 AM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow, Niall Ferguson is astonishingly terrible at writing these kinds of articles.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:07 AM on September 6, 2011


TheophileEscargot: This story might as well be about an army of evil liberal monkeys flying out of Osama bin Laden's butt.


Certainly, Ferguson appears to believe that as soon as Democrats get near anything, everything breaks. John Kerry basically causes the Caliphate. In the Time piece, Mark Warner's election is immediately followed by a global recession, whereas by the time John McCain's son becomes President, America has fuel cell cars, safe nuclear power and terrorist-monitoring nanobots.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:08 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


So glad we live in this, the best of all possible worlds.
posted by gerryblog at 8:08 AM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Apart from writing nonsensical clickbait like this, Ferguson is, of course, also a great promoter of counterfactual history as a serious endeavor — and it's an enterprise about which there are some good questions to be asked:
When it comes to examining the consequent of a historical counterfactual, like most historians Ferguson implicitly embraces the view that what is involved is always and only an act of imagination. The difference between plausible and implausible counterfactuals might be thought to be a function of the degree to which we are able to discipline our imagination, and there is a case to be made that one of the effects of being a good (and specialized) historian is that one's imagination is just so disciplined. But even if we do that, can such imaginings be anything more than an aid to the historian in the context of discovery, doing no more than functioning in the construction of claims that must themselves still be settled by evidence?
I think Bunzl is pointing to what seems bizarre and questionable in the kind of counterfactual yarn-spinning we see here: as soon as Ferguson leaves the actual events behind, he seems to feel free simply to make up an amusing story, without much discussing how or why that story came to seem probable to him, what rules and inferences suggested it (which should've been the real subject for discussion).
posted by RogerB at 8:10 AM on September 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


That's the whole piece? I spent 30 seconds searching for a "Next" or "More" button.
posted by brain_drain at 8:10 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


One obvious answer is that Americans would probably care a lot less than they do about the rest of the world.

I love this baseless assertion that Americans can actually identify the rest of the world.
posted by cmonkey at 8:11 AM on September 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


He also reflected how great it was that the Patriots won 4 Superbowls in a row.

What, did the Saints have to suspend play while New Orleans was moved?

"Speculative History" is like "Reality TV" or "Military Intelligence," right?
posted by spitbull at 8:12 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was the worst thing I've read today (it's early). I want to read a piece about what the world would be like if this guy was an actual writer.

Also, who's Brooklyn Decker?
posted by cjorgensen at 8:12 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


2111 - on the 110th anniversary of an attack that never happened, Merica is shocked by the defeat of its national squad at the Inner Solar System Beatboxing Championships. "This day was set in motion long ago," proclaimed Space Osama III, "Truly this is all my family has ever worked for."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:13 AM on September 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


> Also, who's Brooklyn Decker?

It was one of the "Related Stories" at the bottom of the "article". It seems they change with every page refresh, although they are are pointless sleaze.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:14 AM on September 6, 2011


Also, who's Brooklyn Decker

A superhero who roughs up hipsters?
posted by Stoatfarm at 8:15 AM on September 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


Oh Jesus Christ, not this West-Wing-Meets-Too-Stupid-For-A-SyFy-Movie horseshit again.

If the 9/11 attacks didn't happen hundreds of thousands of people across the world wouldn't be dead now. Where's my check?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:18 AM on September 6, 2011 [14 favorites]


Yes, but what if Al Gore had been elected president?
posted by TedW at 8:19 AM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


An alternate history where 9/11 was foiled requires an alternate history where someone more competent was in charge to foil it.
posted by BurnChao at 8:19 AM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I sure hope Harry Turtledove doesn't see this thread. You guys are really gonna hurt his feelings.
posted by crunchland at 8:21 AM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


What if Brooklyn Decker had been elected President?
posted by Trurl at 8:21 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reads like something that started as an interesting idea for an article that ended up being a 667-word piece of crap because the writer lost interest early and didn't put in the work.
posted by Mooski at 8:21 AM on September 6, 2011


June 1st, 2036.

Jane's hand touches the cool blue button on her iLearn pad. She's had enough of the lessons for today. It was all too much to take. The war in Afghanistan, started by president Gore soon after taking office after the Florida recounts.

America had gone in triumphant. Horror stories about their treatment of women echoed across the media-scape in the months leading up to the war. But once things started to get bogged down in the years that followed. By 2004 Gores approval ratings started to fall. Angry about high gas prices caused by gore's climate policy voters turned to a new hero. Ron Paul.

Paul's denunciations of Gore's "Climate Jihad" and anti-war stances were popular after 12 years of wars under Clinton, then Gore. Paul's elimination of the federal reserve and complete deregulation of the all industries resulted in an enormous financial crisis in 2008 with the collapse of Bear Sterns, followed by Lehman, AIG and finally Goldman Sachs.

The global financial crisis ripped through Europe, making nation after nation insolvent and destroying the euro currency. In 2013 Greece declared war on Germany.

The Germans laughed. How could this puny country defeat their Teutonic glory!? But Nato was destroyed and President Paul in the US had removed US troops. Germany found itself defenseless. and as Greek troupes marched on Berlin the Germans began to muster their industrial engineering and manufacturing prowis to dark ends.

It was called the eurosoldier project.

On April 14th 2014, the first pair of glowing red eyes turned on.
posted by delmoi at 8:22 AM on September 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


The Washington Post, circa 1988 ran a speculative fiction piece with each of the different presidential candidates having won and how their presidential terms would be. Each scenario was kind to the candidates from Jessie Jackson to Pat Robertson.
And you know what? I admired the writer. If you are going to be speculative and create an alternative history, why insult the person? The only thing certain was that Jackson, Robertson, Biden, Dukakis, etc. did not become president.

If Al Gore became president might 9/11 never have occurred? Yes. And the same with John McCain. This is partly because major catastrophes tend to have to have multiple system failures to occur.

The only thing we are certain of is that with Bush as president, 9/11 did happen. And we went to war in Iraq. And the economy turned to shit. And... just a moment, I drifted off imagining that Gore had won.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:23 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


> What if Brooklyn Decker had been elected President?

She probably wouldn't have had time to make the classic film about deception and true love.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:24 AM on September 6, 2011




What if an MEU of marines was transported back to JFK a few hours beforehand?
posted by Meatbomb at 8:25 AM on September 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


What if Brooklyn Decker had been elected President?

"Black Sites" for hipsters?
posted by dhartung at 8:26 AM on September 6, 2011


as soon as Ferguson leaves the actual events behind, he seems to feel free simply to make up an amusing story

You call that an amusing story?!!

"Oh boy," says Dr Sam Beckett, dressed like a old woman, on first seeing a group of Islamic fundamentalist hijackers seizing control of the aircraft cabin.

Al appears -- "Ziggy says you've only got a 0.00000000000000004 percent chance of..." etc etc etc
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 8:32 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


What If Superman Grew Up In Germany? --- Has SNL ever managed to come up with a decent ending for a skit?
posted by crunchland at 8:34 AM on September 6, 2011


Niall Ferguson is actually a great writer, historian and economist. A lot of the snarky one-liners here are clearly from people who never read The Pity of War or The House of Rothschild.

Also, I can't imagine a stupider criticism of counterfactual history than calling it "speculative". Of course it is; that's exactly the point. This is a short article, but in many of his works he goes into counterfactual what-fis with a lot of date behind him. Really examining what didn't happen can often be very useful in explaining what did.

And indeed, Ferguson is a conservative, but one with many heterodox views, so the characterization of him in this thread is again, totally groundless.
posted by spaltavian at 8:34 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


delmoi: "Greek troupes"

Wearing garish masks with rictus smiles or wailing grimaces, no doubt.
posted by mkb at 8:38 AM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


What if Michael Vick was white?
posted by cashman at 8:41 AM on September 6, 2011


Did the confederates warn us about 9/11?
posted by drezdn at 8:43 AM on September 6, 2011


Has SNL ever managed to come up with a decent ending for a skit?

No, never.
posted by briank at 8:43 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of the snarky one-liners here are clearly from people who never read The Pity of War or The House of Rothschild.

Guilty, not that this has anything whatever to do with the quality of the article or the underlying logic of its speculation. It's an entertaining idea (I can't count the number of times I've read a what if story, and I'll probably read the next What If This Did Or Didn't Happen scenario as well), it's just poorly thought out and written as though he had another, more important deadline to work on.
posted by Mooski at 8:45 AM on September 6, 2011


What If Superman Grew Up In Germany?

What If Superman Grew Up In The Soviet Union?
posted by mikepop at 8:45 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, Niall Ferguson is astonishingly terrible at writing these kinds of articles.

Eff Tee Eff Why. Any hope that Tina Brown might have learned something from her debacle at the New Yorker was pretty much dashed when she kept Ferguson on when she took over Newsweek. (The rest of the magazine is still a mess, too.)

And, sorry, spaltavian, but trying to defend this article by saying that we'd think differently if we read entire books of his is a non-starter. If he excels at the long form, he should stick to it. Starting an alternate history by having principal players acting completely different from the way that they did in real life is the worst sort of lazy bullshit writing; as with just about everything else I've seen Ferguson write, he's not even really trying here.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:47 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The big question, of course, is where are the Alien Space Bats? Given all the changes proposed, they have to be behind the scenes, manipulating everything.
posted by Hactar at 8:58 AM on September 6, 2011


"Liberal pundits foam at the mouth. Ordinary Americans, unseared by 9/11, are shocked."

Really? Liberal pundits (you know, the hordes of liberal pundits who control the Liberal Media) control public opinion on Bizarro World, but not on this planet.

Can I have my three minutes back, please?
posted by warbaby at 9:02 AM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


President Box Of Thumbtacks looked down from the podium at his audience. Like the president himself and indeed the rest of the nation, were all dressed in red-and-white candy stripes and straw boaters. The "Ragtime Uniform" constitutional amendment debate of the previous year had been draining, but, in a world where history had taken a different course from our own, anything was possible and common sense was irrelevant.

"Argle foogle Americans," he said, for the very English language had turned into gibberish! "Oogle bloogle blarg. Foop foopy fong-foff." He pulled out a mallet and began to hit himself on the head. Distantwise, a steak stairways boxentorp. Zoo! Zoo! Let crie the grenkets!

And it was all the liberals' fault.
posted by No-sword at 9:03 AM on September 6, 2011 [27 favorites]


Also, I can't imagine a stupider criticism of counterfactual history than calling it "speculative". Of course it is; that's exactly the point.
I don't know all this alternative history stuff annoys me because really there's no way to know what would have happened.

The other problem is the idea that we would for some reason need to do the kind of Bush/Cheney torture/black ops crap that bush and Cheney actually did in order to take down Bin Laden in the absence of 9/11. That stuff doesn't appear to have even accomplished anything.
Any hope that Tina Brown might have learned something from her debacle at the New Yorker was pretty much dashed when she kept Ferguson on when she took over Newsweek.
Yeah, I've seen this guy on TV. He seems to basically spout beltway elite platitudes.
posted by delmoi at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2011


A defense contractor woke up in a blind panic, he had a vision of a world where 9/11 had never happened and thus he lost billions of dollars in contracts, leaving him merely exceptionally wealthy rather than insanely wealthy. Shaking, he turned over to his solid gold wife for comfort, clutching her hard bosom in this wretched spotted hands.
posted by The Whelk at 9:18 AM on September 6, 2011 [14 favorites]


I normally agree with Ferguson, but think his projected liberal outrage over the hypothetical pre-9/11 decapitation of AQ is off-base. The attacks on the USS Cole and the US Embassies in Africa merited a response, and one focused on AQ seems measured. It's hard to imagine mainstream Democrats criticizing such an operation when viewed in that context.

He is on the right track, however, when he discusses the likely fall of Gulf state monarchies allied with the US. One salutary benefit of 9/11 was to expose the nihilistic agenda of Islamist terrorists and the weakness of their patron states, all of which likely accelerated the decline of Islamism. Without 9/11, Islamism would still hold some romantic appeal for anti-imperialists and nationalists across the Middle East (and, I dare say, in the West as well).
posted by BobbyVan at 9:23 AM on September 6, 2011


Niall Ferguson, Scott Adams and David Mamet walk into a bar...
posted by Skeptic at 9:24 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I normally agree with Ferguson, but think his projected liberal outrage over the hypothetical pre-9/11 decapitation of AQ is off-base.

Especially considering that the outrage when Clinton bombed the shit out of an aspirin factory in Sudan didn't exactly come from the liberal corner...
posted by Skeptic at 9:26 AM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Needs more Uatu the Watcher.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:28 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Niall Ferguson is actually a great writer, historian and economist. A lot of the snarky one-liners here are clearly from people who never read The Pity of War or The House of Rothschild.

The article has to stand on its own merits. It's not like after writing a few books Ferguson gets a Smart Person Trophy that he puts on his shelf and can angrily point to every time he's called out for writing idiotic garbage.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:34 AM on September 6, 2011 [15 favorites]


Did the confederates warn us about 9/11?

What if the Confederacy had won won the Civil War?
posted by homunculus at 9:41 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Er, just one won, that is.
posted by homunculus at 9:43 AM on September 6, 2011


tl;dr version:

"What if my friends hadn't completely dropped the ball ten years ago, and we could instead blame those damn liberals for something even worse?"
posted by Skeptic at 9:47 AM on September 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


Where are the zeppelins? My alternative history must have zeppelins!
posted by jonp72 at 9:54 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


One salutary benefit of 9/11 was to expose the nihilistic agenda of Islamist terrorists and the weakness of their patron states, all of which likely accelerated the decline of Islamism.

The nihilistic agenda of Islamist terrorists had already been more than sufficiently exposed by the GIA and the Taliban. Americans may not have paid much attention to either, but you can be sure that most of the Muslim world did.
posted by Skeptic at 10:00 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


> The nihilistic agenda of Islamist terrorists had already been more than sufficiently exposed by the GIA and the Taliban.

Those groups actually stand in some contradistinction to Al Qaeda, at least as far as so-called "nihilism" is concerned. Groups like the Taliban are after political and territorial power, and as such have goals that can be considered reasonable. Al Qaeda want to cause general hegemony, immanetize the eschaton, etc and can't really bargained with. But, that's not really here nor there.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:03 AM on September 6, 2011


>And indeed, Ferguson is a conservative, but one with many heterodox views, so the characterization of him in this thread is again, totally groundless.

As far as I can see, there are only two characterizations of him in this thread:

1.
"He's a guy who likes blaming liberals."

This may or may not be correct, but in everything from him I've read or seen-- which set excludes his major works, and includes his TV punditry-- his favorite theme is that Liberals are All Neville Chamberlains in 1938, Every Day.

2.
"He's written a bad 'What If 9/11 Didn't Happen' article."

Here the evidence is clearly grounded in the attached article... because it is a bad, bad piece of writing. What does his article propose? That the New York Times complains about some covert operations, and as a result, the governments of Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia fall.

Apparently, very little restrains the teeming masses from storming the citadels, once prodded by Leslie Gelb and the kind of article he and his fellow travelers published routinely in the 1990s.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:10 AM on September 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Horselover Phattie The GIA (which has basically morphed into "Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb" nowadays) was certainly at least as nihilistic and uncompromising as Al Qaeda. Also, they pioneered the "let's fly an airliner into a landmark building" idea, but botched the execution.
posted by Skeptic at 10:12 AM on September 6, 2011


Niall Ferguson, Scott Adams and David Mamet walk into a bar...

To save time, can't we just hit them with it?
posted by Grangousier at 10:20 AM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Niall Ferguson is a man of various talents; he can fantasise about both the British and American empires.
posted by Abiezer at 10:46 AM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


The most infuriating thing to me about the popular collective memory of the Bush Administration, 9/11, etc. is how nobody seems to remember that even before he took office, there was no doubt in a lot of people's minds that the Bush administration would find a way to start a war in Iraq.
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:47 AM on September 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


My alternate history involves two of the 9/11 hijackers being deported shortly before the planned attack. This delays the operation by exactly one year. On September 11th, 2002, the first plane hits the the World Trade Center as planned. The substitute hijackers, being less experienced, veer off course slightly. Somewhere in the West Village, the newly appointed John Herzog Professor in Financial History at NYU's Stern School of Business is looking out from his balcony at the smoking tower when the second plane crashes into his building, killing him instantly. Niall Ferguson's life is tragically cut short, and history progresses basically exactly the way it really did, except this article is never written.
posted by snofoam at 10:52 AM on September 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Who was it who said that the prime motivation of conservatives is pissing liberals off? They must have been thinking of Ferguson.

He's a joke as an historian, by the way, at least nowadays - having passed from torturing sources in his earlier books to support his politics, he now seems to spend most of his time making up silly sub-Thomas Friedman cod-explanations of historical phenomena on the basis of research briefs prepared for him by teams of graduate students. Each book is framed as if it were bravely challenging decades of blind liberal orthodoxy in the academy, but although his books sell well (partly because he writes good clear popular prose), to anyone with more than a basic knowledge of their subject matter, most of them are hopeless tripe.
posted by lucien_reeve at 11:07 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


even before he took office, there was no doubt in a lot of people's minds that the Bush administration would find a way to start a war in Iraq.

Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over.'
posted by octobersurprise at 11:11 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow. So Al-Q leaders are rounded up, there are some sort of covert actions involved and these Middle East governments fall?

That's beyond ludicrous and I say that as someone who has lived in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
posted by ambient2 at 11:18 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, denounces the “criminal conduct” of the Bush administration. Liberal pundits foam at the mouth. Ordinary Americans, unseared by 9/11, are shocked.

Well, since we're already in a phantasmagoria in which vast hordes of ordinary Americans hang on John Kerry's every word, let me fill in a missing graf or two for ole Niall:

The outrage spreads in waves. So powerful is John Kerry's rhetorical blow for truth, justice and the American way, so profound its revelatory impact, that Fox News viewers experience a kind of TV satori and realize en masse that they've been used as pawns by wealthy opportunists with no priorities other than growing their own profits; the network goes on hiatus before the 2006 congressional election, re-emerging as a sort of extended version of the MacNeil-Lehrer Report, with "opinion" shows hosted by a rotating cast of Fulbright scholars. The right-wing blogosphere defects wholesale to a minor secondary site hosted by Salon.com (which is also now a film and TV production empire, producing Frontline-style documentaries released as summer tentpoles that routinely outdraw Hollywood special-effects spectaculars at the multiplex).

Glenn Beck takes over the sidekick job on Conan O'Brien so that Sen. Richter can join his colleagues in Washington.

And the formerly somnolent mainstream media, jolted awake by America's sudden, profound and nuanced engagement with the serious events of the day, clears house of all pundits with long track records in falsehood, misapprehension and baseless speculation. (Niall Ferguson, for example, now teaches an optional history seminar for full-scholarship "student-athletes" at the University of Miami.)

Because of course any student of American history knows that if it weren't for 9/11, America's political class needed only a shocking revelation about mistreatment of Arab terrorists on American soil to prevent it from its current catastrophic dysfunction.
posted by gompa at 11:30 AM on September 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


The article has to stand on its own merits. It's not like after writing a few books Ferguson gets a Smart Person Trophy that he puts on his shelf and can angrily point to every time he's called out for writing idiotic garbage.

Alas, Sticherbeast, this just isn't how mainstream punditry works. It exists in a hermetic world so self-serious that no one within will ever risk their own insider seat by pointing out that the guy next to him hasn't said an insightful thing or made a coherent argument in years.

As I noted awhile back here on the blue, this process is known as friedmanization.
posted by gompa at 11:39 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]




As I noted awhile back here on the blue, this process is known as friedmanization.

And as I noted in the same thread, you should never let Thomas Friedman use you toilet.
posted by homunculus at 11:51 AM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


> What if the Confederacy had won won the Civil War?

What if Dracula started a supergroup with Wayne Newton and Ice Cube?
(sorry, couldn't resist)
posted by morganw at 12:33 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Al Qaeda had already atttacked two US embassies before 9/11. I don't think the public or John Kerry would be really upset woth him being arrested.
posted by nestor_makhno at 12:37 PM on September 6, 2011


Or killed for that matter.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:53 PM on September 6, 2011


The most infuriating thing to me about the popular collective memory of the Bush Administration, 9/11, etc. is how nobody seems to remember that even before he took office, there was no doubt in a lot of people's minds that the Bush administration would find a way to start a war in Iraq.

I remember that. I was in the Marine Corps reserve at the time, going to college. In spring 2001, I remember distinctly when I realized that Bush was committed to a war in Iraq and I'd probably be activated eventually.
posted by heathkit at 1:01 PM on September 6, 2011




He also reflected how great it was that the Patriots won 4 Superbowls in a row.

The fourth one was the best game, with that amazing interception by the Patriots' free-agent acquisition, Pat Tillman.

Everyone thought Pat was crazy, talking about quitting the game and joining the military (imagine!), but coach Bill Belichick knew all the veteran safety needed was a change of scenery.

It was an great game. I loved the look on Corporal Jason Dunham's face when Tillman flipped him the game ball in the stands. It was like Tillman knew the guy or something.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:20 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


And indeed, Ferguson is a conservative,

Impossible. He teaches at Harvard.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:29 PM on September 6, 2011


I looked at the Salon article that homunculus linked to above, and oh holy shit you guys you guys:
According to Ferguson, Britain should have stayed out of World War I and allowed Imperial Germany to smash France and Russia and create a continental empire from the Atlantic to the Middle East.
And then Britain, which wouldn't have been devastated by two world wars, would have been best buds with the Greater German Empire because George V and the Kaiser were cousins, and those bloody upstarts across the pond could just fuck off. (Tsar Nicholas II was also a cousin of George's, of course.) Wow. I mean... wow.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:06 PM on September 6, 2011


Aight, I put on my robe and wizard hat.
posted by LordSludge at 3:15 PM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


According to Ferguson, Britain should have stayed out of World War I and allowed Imperial Germany to smash France and Russia and create a continental empire from the Atlantic to the Middle East.

Except these weren't Germany's war aims. Imperial Germany does not equal Nazi Germany. Germany had a more democratic franchise than Britain! German bluster regarding huge concessions from the allies came after the war started, and just about equaled the imperial dreams of the French.

Germany wanted to dominate a continental customs union and be the main power on the continent. That happened in Europe after the Second World War any way and mostly with the blessing of the Allies.

Again, a lot of "lulz, how crazy" snark from those who haven't read any of Ferguson's work. If you want to make an intelligent criticism of Ferguson's argument here, then you'll have to read The Pity of War.

Seriously, the Lind's suggestion that we can ignore Ferguson because he would have allowed the Kaiser to "crush" Europe is idiotic. The Kaiser couldn't "crush" the Bavarian legislature.
posted by spaltavian at 4:05 PM on September 6, 2011


What If: Freddie Mercury didn't die too young?
posted by ob1quixote at 5:05 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please read a large novel to defend one-page dream log.
posted by benzenedream at 5:36 PM on September 6, 2011


Please read a large novel to defend one-page dream log.

It would be nice if you could please read a short post, at least, because I'm addressing someone's knee-jerk "oh shit, he didn't think the Kaiser was Hitler" argument.

Also, novels are works of fiction, not history.
posted by spaltavian at 6:03 PM on September 6, 2011


My bad. I was referring to your earlier comment (not the Kaiser derail):

Niall Ferguson is actually a great writer, historian and economist. A lot of the snarky one-liners here are clearly from people who never read The Pity of War or The House of Rothschild.

Please read s large novel several history books to defend one-page dream log.
posted by benzenedream at 6:14 PM on September 6, 2011


What If Superman Grew Up In Germany?

What if Superman was a Communist? is a legit good graphic novel.

this sort of alternate history is pretty common. didn't the Lone Gunmen foil the government's plot to crash a plane into the WTC anyway?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:45 PM on September 6, 2011


I'm addressing someone's knee-jerk "oh shit, he didn't think the Kaiser was Hitler" argument.

Wow, what a dumb argument! Good thing I (or Lind) didn't make it. Nice gambit at Godwinizing the discussion, though.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:46 PM on September 6, 2011


So, does anyone know of any good alternate histories in which 9/11 never happened? I bet MeFites could come up with some interesting ones...
posted by overglow at 9:37 PM on September 6, 2011


spaltavian, I think most of us are aware that the Kaiser wasn't Hitler and that the Germany of WWI wasn't that of WWII. I don't think this supports Ferguson's idea that an Anglo-German arrangement in WWI would have been better for Britain or the world, though.
Pre-WWI Germany had very particular constitutional problems, in that power was divided between several centers with diverging aims: the Kaiser, the Reichstag, the Army, the Navy, not to mention the various kingdoms. As a result, unlike most other countries, Germany entered the war without a single, clear war aim:
Austria-Hungary sought to punish Serbia and restore its own inner cohesion. Russia sought overlordship over Europe's Slaves and the Dardanelles. France sought revenge and Alsace-Lorraine. Britain sought to restore the balance of power and prevent that a single big power dominated the continental side of the Channel. Italy sought control of the Adriatic. All clear, well-defined aims. And Germany? Well, the Army wanted at least to turn Belgium into a puppet kingdom and to take a big bite of Russian Poland. The Navy wanted colonies. The kingdoms wanted to recover part of their clout. The Kaiser wanted whatever the Army and the Navy wanted, and also to keep up with the British Joneses. The Reichstag wanted to stay close to Austria-Hungary. Those aims weren't necessarily complementary. What if Britain, as Ferguson proposes, had reneged on its treaty obligations with Belgium and made peace with Germany? A victorious Germany would have swallowed Luxembourg and taken territorial gains from Belgium, France and Russia. From Russia, it would have taken Russian Poland. From Belgium, the Congo, and possibly the heavily industrialized Liege basin, as well as a Flemish protectorate. From France, parts of North Africa, notably its Moroccan protectorate. The resulting power would have been a direct challenger to Britain's industrial, colonial and naval might, and future conflict preprogrammed, with Britain very much in the weakest position, and with few friends after proving itself, once again, an unreliable ally, "perfidious Albion".
posted by Skeptic at 11:33 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Then you're gonna love this.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:50 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Alternatively, let's not neglect the effect that a WWI defeat would have had on France.

Humiliated, it would most probably have spawned a reactionary, totalitarian ideology not unlike fascism. A "national revolution" led by the "Action Française" would have overthrown the Republic and proclaimed a new "French State", led by Marshall Pétain and based on an illiberal and violently anti-Semitic National-Catholic ideology. Pétainist France would have found ready allies in its Southern neighbours: in Italy, a firebrand former Socialist journalist called Benito Mussolini, secretly on the pay of the French secret service, would have taken over power after a March on Rome. In Spain, after the terrible defeat of Annual at the hands of a secretly German-supported revolt in Spanish Morocco, king Alfonso XIII would also have put most power in the hands of General Primo de Rivera. French and Spanish troops, using poison gases, would have brutally suppressed the revolt and entered German Morocco in hot pursuit of the rebels, leading to a serious incident with Germany, which would only cement the French-Spanish-Italian "Roman League".

France would also covertly support insurgencies within its enemies, notably in Ireland and German satellite Belgium. The Irish revolt led by the "green shirts" of the IRA would lead to an independent, and violently anti-British, "Irish Catholic State" modelled after France and receiving significant military and naval support from the "Roman League". In Belgium, resentment of the Prussian overlordship would boil over and lead to a call for "Rattachement" to France. This call would be gladly answered by France, which would take over Belgium in a fortnight without reaction from the mutually suspicious German and British.

Despite material affluence, the German and Austro-Hungarian empires would remain riven by internal conflict. In Germany, France would support dissent and even terrorism in Alsace-Lorraine, Luxembourg, the Saar and Rhineland, and would seek secret contacts among the Catholic principalities, notably with Bavaria, where an expatriate Austrian painter would possibly attract the attention of French agents. Austria-Hungary, having gained a Slavic population majority after its victory in the Great War, would have to grant its Slavic peoples equal representation to the Austrian and Hungarians. This would lead to significant resentment in Hungary, which could eventually declare its independence under Admiral Horthy, and join the "Roman League". In turn, this would fuel German nationalism in Austria, and destabilize the Imperial court.

Unrest in Vienna would lead to a popular proclamation of Anschluss with Germany. The Roman League would take this as excuse to "come to the rescue of the oppressed Catholic Italians and Slavs of the Austrian Empire" with a pincer attack from Italy and Hungary. Simultaneously, to prevent a German reaction, the armoured columns of Col. de Gaulle, an old protégé of Pétain, would launch an attack from Belgium, through the Eifel (previously thought impenetrable), directly into the industrial heartlands of the Rhineland, cutting off most of the German Army in Luxembourg and Alsace-Lorraine and leading to a military disaster and an armistice. WWII would start...

Counterfactuals are fun!
posted by Skeptic at 2:37 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Apocryphon: "Then you're gonna love this."

Ho-leee shit. How common do you think the view that we'd be better off if we had nuked the Swat Valley, Kabul, Karachi, Riyadh, Tehran, Dubai, Damascus, Mecca, and Medina is? Then it just gets weird.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:21 AM on September 7, 2011


I don't normally find Christopher Hitchens a hugely sympathetic figure, but I'm mortified on his behalf about the passage attributed to him in that slurry.

(It's also weird that Hitch is still being used as the legitimating media figure for the right wing in a piece written in 2011. Has this guy not been paying attention? Ferguson doing it in 2006 - before he sued the NSA, published a book about how great atheism was and described Sarah Palin as a national disgrace - is reasonable, but has this guy just not been paying attention?)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:54 AM on September 7, 2011


(He asked, failing to pay attention to how many times he had asked if the writer was paying attention. Coffee. Needed.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:43 AM on September 7, 2011


I'm also amused by how he has Tom Clancy write a book so wretched and ridiculous that not even the real Clancy would contemplate making. And Clancy doesn't even write alternate history, either.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:33 AM on September 7, 2011


Apocryphon: "I'm also amused by how he has Tom Clancy write a book so wretched and ridiculous that not even the real Clancy would contemplate making. And Clancy doesn't even write alternate history, either."

Red Storm Rising is close.
posted by mkb at 11:01 AM on September 7, 2011


A victorious Germany would have swallowed Luxembourg and taken territorial gains from Belgium, France and Russia. From Russia, it would have taken Russian Poland. From Belgium, the Congo, and possibly the heavily industrialized Liege basin, as well as a Flemish protectorate. From France, parts of North Africa, notably its Moroccan protectorate.

Germany was terrified of British entry into the war. Germany may very well have not gambled on war in 1914 if they were convinced Britain would enter the war. (Gray and Asquith were so out of sync in policy, however, that France was sure Britain would enter on its side, and Germany was pretty sure Britain wouldn't until after the July Crisis.)

Germany would have agreed to the perserve the post-war territorial integrity of Belgium and France for British neutrality and thought it a great bargin. It's good we agree the Kaiser wasn't Hitler, but he wasn't Napoleon either.

Britain would have minded a slightly expanded German empire very little. Germany simply was not Britain's strongest rival, which was, of course, America. Indeed, London's Franco-and Russophilia only came about because those nations were where actual mortal danger could spring. A humbling of France and Russia would not have hurt Britain's standing. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw more flash points and near-misses between France and the Empire than with Germany.

The resulting power would have been a direct challenger to Britain's industrial, colonial and naval might, and future conflict preprogrammed,

This happened anyway, only in your counterfactual, Germany is a constitutional monarchy and doesn't have a massive, irredentist chip on its shoulder. There's no reason Germany could not have emerged as an important economic competitor without threatening the Empire. Indeed, since British policy (as seen in its treatment of America, France and Russia) was basically to appease* the strong, there would almost certainly have been a tilt towards Berlin in the wake of the Second Franco-Prussian War.

*In the standard sense, not the pejorative sense acquired after Munich.

with Britain very much in the weakest position, and with few friends after proving itself, once again, an unreliable ally, "perfidious Albion".

A "friendless" England would have been better off than the exhausted England of 1919. Power would not have drifted across the Atlantic nearly as fast, and Britain would have retained more influence on the continent. All Britain got out of "winning" was millons dead, high unemployment, the loss of Ireland, indebtedness to the United States and headaches in the Middle East.

Humiliated, it would most probably have spawned a reactionary, totalitarian ideology not unlike fascism. A "national revolution" led by the "Action Française" would have overthrown the Republic and proclaimed a new "French State", led by Marshall Pétain and based on an illiberal and violently anti-Semitic National-Catholic ideology.

Possibly. But a humiliated France turned towards republicanism, not fascism, in 1871.
posted by spaltavian at 4:11 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Alternatively, let's not neglect the effect that a WWI defeat would have had on France.

Alternatively alternatively, let's not neglect to consider the effect on the USA. Without the lessons learned from the effects of fascism in Europe those within the United States with fascist tendencies/sympathies do not face the same amount of opposition, in fact they can point to the threat of a Europe united under German Hegemony to their sphere of interests in the Western Hemisphere to seriously bolster their case. A massive armament program is put forward and accepted as fundamental both to protecting American national interests and revitalising the economy following the failure and damage done by classical liberal Laissez Faire economic policies.

Meanwhile in Britain, they realise the folly of abandoning the previous policy of playing the continental powers off against each other now that they face a unified Europe, and start to see that their interests coincide with their Anglophone cousins across the pond. This process is aided greatly by the political leanings of the King, and Mosley is resoundingly elected PM on a platform of national patriotic solidarity and upholding the global supremacy of the English speaking people in the face of threat from the 'inferior races'.

In Asia, the Japanese take note of the changing strategic situation of the two powers that stand in the way of their goal of establishing an 'co-prosperity sphere' in the east, rightly judging that both the UK and the USA are now too preoccupied with the threat of a unified Europe to interfere. Plans of a pre-emptive strike on the US's Pacific capabilities are put on hold until their position in East Asia has been secured.

The end result being that we have always been at war with Eurasia.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:08 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]




Germany would have agreed to the perserve the post-war territorial integrity of Belgium and France for British neutrality and thought it a great bargin. It's good we agree the Kaiser wasn't Hitler, but he wasn't Napoleon either.

The question is, would the Kaiser have been able to hold his part of the bargain? This is very unlikely, and that's, ultimately, the reason why Britain entered the war. Especially after all the trouble the Belgian army and its forts around Liège and Antwerp gave the Germans in the early stages of the war, a victorious German army would never have allowed a neutral, armed Belgium to stand in its way ever again, and would immediately have set onto sabotaging and unravelling whatever arrangements the Kaiser and the government may have made with the British re. Belgium. After all, Germany didn't enter WWI because the Kaiser was strong, but because he was weak. At best, Belgium would have become a puppet state. At worst, Germany would have split Belgium in two and annexed a swath of territory going all the way to the Meuse/Maas. Luxembourg, part of the historic Holy Roman German Empire and largely German-speaking, would have been toast.

The Navy and the German colonial administration would also have gone out of their way to get their spoils in the shape of the Belgian Congo. This would possibly have been disguised as a sale by Belgium, much like the US "bought" the Philippines from Spain after being crushed in the Spanish-American War. Or perhaps Germany would have swapped it for, say, Togo. In any case, Belgium wouldn't have been in a good bargaining position.

Britain would have minded a slightly expanded German empire very little.

A German Congo represented the British Empire's worst nightmare. For starters, it would have connected with German East Africa, giving the Germans what the British had nearly gone to war to prevent the French from obtaining: a continuous East-West corridor through Africa. One should not forget that, if France and Britain had allowed King Leopold of Belgium to carve such a big slice of Africa for himself, it was because, after the Falusha incident, they both preferred a neutral to hold Africa's center than either of them. There is little doubt that the Germans would immediately have set upon building a trans-African railway to bypass both the Suez canal and Gibraltar. Not a pleasant prospect for Britain.

And speaking of railways, let's not forget that the likely territorial gains of Germany, Austria and Turkey in Eastern Europe and the Middle East would also have ensured that other German project that produced headaches both at the Foreign Office and the War Office: a German railway going all the way to Persia, putting India within the reach of the German Army.

But a humiliated France turned towards republicanism, not fascism, in 1871.

A second humiliation would have swung the pendulum back the other way. Just as it did, in fact, in 1940.
posted by Skeptic at 1:28 AM on September 8, 2011


Correction "after Spain being crushed..."
posted by Skeptic at 1:29 AM on September 8, 2011


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